WAKING LIFE- - a review

Michael Reuben

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As many of you know, I don't generally slam films. It's the rare film in which I can't find something to enjoy for all or most of its running time.
Well, I finally sat through one for which I truly wish I could get the time back.
Richard Linklater's Waking Life, which opened in limited release this week after playing the New York film festival, has been widely praised for its innovative animation techniques, which convert live action footage into very trippy cartoons that don't look quite like any others I've ever seen. I have no complaints about the creative imagery; it's about the only thing that kept me awake.
Unfortunately, the imagery is put in service of the most self-indulgent script Richard Linklater ever wrote (and considering his track record, that says a lot). For an hour and 40 minutes, you get to follow an unnamed protagonist through a surreal landscape that is probably a series of dreams within dreams within dreams. As in most other Linklater films, he encounters a series of people who talk . . . and talk . . . and talk . . . and talk. (In one particularly cruel moment, we come upon two characters played by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, who sound like they're still carrying on that interminable conversation from Before Sunrise.)
The talk is insufferably pretentious -- loaded with high-falutin' ramblings on consciousness, dreams and perception, given to extensive name-dropping of the kind that most people outgrow by the end of college (Kierkegaard! Sartre! Bazin!), and laced with the kind of droning self-absorption that can be entertaining in an intense one-on-one conversation with a close friend but is deadly to have to listen to as an outsider.
The film is obviously attempting to say something profound about perception and reality, but it ends up dulling both.
As is probably obvious, I've never much cared for Linklater's films. I went to see this one because the reviews of the animation technique intrigued me. Someday I'd like to see those techniques placed in service of a real story and not something that looks like an egomaniac's graduate thesis masquerading as a film school project.
M.
[Edited last by Michael Reuben on October 19, 2001 at 08:03 AM]
 

Seth Paxton

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More dry than Slacker?? Oh dear.
BTW, he does have a film where his beautiful filming techiques serve a fast paced and lively story...Dazed and Confused. And that's it.
The rest fall into that indulgent catagory. I was afraid WL did, but I was hoping maybe it didn't. I like his visual style and techniques, but his stories are often way too preachy and clunky in serving that sermon.
I guess this goes on my "maybe at the theater" list rather than "first weekend" list.
 

Aurel Savin

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Dazed and Confused is one of my all time favorite films, the characters were great and it jumpstarted the career of many actors in Hollywood.
Before Sunrise was also great ... I loved the way he showed us the great instant attraction between the two characters. I longed for that type of girl at the time

But you are right Linklater has been very inconsistent, and his latest doesn't look interesting at all. Definetelly looks like a very personal project.
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SteveGon

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For me, Slacker is Linklater's most original and interesting film. It's a shame that he seems to be going downhill. Dazed and Confused was fun in a sort of over-blown, nostalgic kind of way. Before Sunrise and SubUrbia were mildly interesting. The Newton Boys is a very slight diversion. I'll put off my opinion on Waking Life until I see it...
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My top ten movies that need to be on dvd:
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[Edited last by SteveGon on October 19, 2001 at 10:03 AM]
 

SteveGon

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Hmmm, Roger Ebert seems to think highly of Waking Life...
http://www.suntimes.com/output/ebert...waking19f.html
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My top ten movies that need to be on dvd:
1. Akira Kurosawa's Dreams 2. Freaks 3. Men With Guns 4. The Ninth Configuration 5. The Reflecting Skin 6. Santa Sangre 7. Treasure of the Sierra Madre 8. Voyager 9. White Heat 10. Wings of Desire
 

SteveGon

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That's fine. My intent was to simply offer a balanced view.

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My top ten movies that need to be on dvd:
1. Akira Kurosawa's Dreams 2. Freaks 3. Men With Guns 4. The Ninth Configuration 5. The Reflecting Skin 6. Santa Sangre 7. Treasure of the Sierra Madre 8. Voyager 9. White Heat 10. Wings of Desire
 

MichaelPe

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What a great flick! Lots of deep messages and interesting dialogues throughout the film.
Two thoughts crossed my mind after seeing this film:
1. Is this film eligible for the "Best Animated Film" category at the Oscars? Because technically, it's not really animated...
2. How difficult will it be to compress this film onto DVD? I have a feeling that it will require a very high bit rate. The uniform fills, the rapid shifts in color, the quick movements from frame to frame... It seems like the worse-case scenario for the MPEG-2 codec.

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Ted_Cogswell

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I just got home from seeing WAKING LIFE and my reaction was quite different from yours. I'm sorry that you didn't enjoy it, I can indeed understand why one would find it a bit much if you weren't in the right mood for it. Me, I was ready. I let it suck me in completely-- the self-indulgent non-stop philosophical babble was exactly what I needed at this moment. It's almost relaxing in a way to just let things like that run around through your head. There's no right or wrong answer, there's no beginning or end, you just jump into it and swim around- it's very soothing actually. And the animation was really something. The combined audio/visual had a real effect on me physically. Afterwards everything outisde looked very strange- my reality had definitely been altered. I think that Linklater got what he was reaching for, it certainly worked for me. Story, shmory, you don't see something like this every day.
 

Jason Seaver

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I'm with Michael. This isn't the worst movie I've seen this year, but it may have been the most tiresome. One of the most aggravating things to me was how, at a certain point, a character mentions being able to take control of a lucid dream... But does Wiley? No. HE KEEPS TALKING. There's very little interesting said, and it's said in the most dry, patronizing way possible. Not that talk is bad, per se, but some DOING would be nice, too.
I mean, this movie would be savaged if it weren't rotoscoped into animation. And even then, I wound up feeling seasick just as often as I was impressed.
 

Erik Pontius

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I saw this over the weekend after reading quite a bit about the film and the animation process in the local papers. I've been intrigued with this film since I first saw a little write up about it in Wired magazine a year or so ago.
Also what intrigued me was the footage for the film was shot entirely on regular consumer DV cameras with a very small crew (like 4 people) and they filmed it in a short time. Most of the people in it are just local non-actor people (much like Slacker). They took all the DV footage and edited it digitally. Then got a group of artists together and added their own touches to the different scenes and people in the film. So this is really quite an independent film...
The film deals with dreams and dream theory, lots of philisophical ideas, that might take more than one viewing to really start to grasp. If you have ever had discussions with your friends or thoughts to yourself about dreams and dream theory you should like the film.
On a side note, the DVD should probably look great since it should be coming from a digital source and also perhaps since it is not traditional drawn cell animation.
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Rain

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Is this film eligible for the "Best Animated Film" category at the Oscars?
Maybe if there was such a category, but there isn't. There is a Best Animated Short category, though.

I've been thinking about seeing this movie, but I'm going to listen to some more debate on it first. This looks like one of those love it or hate it kinda movies....
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John Berggren

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Rain:
Maybe if there was such a category, but there isn't. There is a Best Animated Short category, though.
This year will be the first for Best Feature-Length Animation. The award was created in 1999 with specifics set for how many films must come out in that given year and how many nominations will be made based on this number. 2001 is the first eligible year, and I'm quite sure enough films have come out.
Waking life might be nominatable, but I think it'll be more likely that this will be a Disney-Pixar-Dreamworks battle this year.
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Rain

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A new category, eh? How interesting. This I did not know.
60 years too late for Dumbo.

[Edited last by Rain on October 29, 2001 at 05:24 PM]
 

AaronJB

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I'm coming at this from the other way around. I haven't seen "Waking Life", but I just watched Linklater's "other" new movie, "Tape", which I have to say I felt was only a few steps away from being on my worst of the year list.
A digital video production that was shot in only a matter of days and starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Robert Sean Leonard, the film suffers from a horribly irritating and obnoxious over-the-top performance from Ethan Hawke, an actor whose work I've liked in "Gattaca" and Linklater's "Before Sunrise". Here, he takes a film with otherwise mediocre elements and completely sinks it.
I won't go into the film's plot, but I really hope that "Waking Life" is better than "Tape". "Tape" was really the first film in a long time that I disliked so much as I sat through it that it made me really unhappy.
 

Thi Them

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13 movies were submitted for the animation category, among them are Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Shrek, Monsters Inc., Osmosis Jones, and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. 3 of these will be selected for nomination. If someone knows all the movies submitted, it would be great to see what they are.
I really liked Waking Life, but I prefer My Dinner with Andre.
~T
 

MichaelPe

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I'm guessing that the others include "Atlantis: The Lost Empire", "Recess: School's Out", "Pokémon 3", and "Waking Life".
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Jason Seaver

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Would a couple of anime films have been submitted? I've seen Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade in theaters this year, and I'm not aware of previous theatrical/video releases in the US for them.
 

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John Berggren

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Vampire Hunter D was disqualified as it doesn't run 70 minutes or more. The category is going to run this year though. I don't know what will be nominated.
 

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